Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

Feature: From Bauhaus to Love And Rockets, and the new Night Crickets, David J always delivers

| December 13, 2022

David J and the Night Crickets

Man of many bands, David J, is no stranger to iconic songwriting and inventive bass parts, dating all the way back to post-punk/gothic architects Bauhaus, continuing with alternative rockers Love And Rockets and now starting an entirely new chapter fronting the Night Crickets, all while juggling a slew of solo and passion projects.

Along with Victor DeLorenzo (drummer for Violent Femmes) and multi-instrumentalist/artist Darwin Meiners, the latter super group of sorts just released a vinyl of their highly raved about debut, “A Free Society,,” which boasts a kaleidoscopic of constantly compelling psychedelic and art rock experimentation.

In a revealing Zoom conversation, the influential artist explained the entire pandemic-sculpted project, touched on each of those other classic bands (one of which may have even sparked the idea for Blue Man Group), a lifetime of loving Chicago and hopes to someday bring the Night Crickets to town.

IE: How did you initially connect with Victor and Darwin to get this new group off the ground?

David J: The seeds of this were sewn at Coachella when the Violent Femmes were playing there. Darwin and I were in the audience for that gig and feeling rather privileged to be there. I’ve always been a big fan of Violent Femmes, and same with Darwin. Then afterward, Darwin was milling around backstage, and he happened to bump into Victor. They struck up a conversation, hit it off, and then they exchanged emails. During the course of the email conversation that followed, this idea came up. Actually, it was Darwin that pitched it to Victor. “How about us collaborating on something?” Victor thought that was a good idea, but he said, “how about asking David if he wants to be involved in this?” So they did, and I didn’t hesitate. I said, “let’s give it a trial, try two tracks and see how it goes.” Those two tracks just clicked straight away, so we were off and rolling. Then we ended up making an album.


IE: What’s the meaning behind the album’s title, A Free Society?

David J: The track is actually a list of potential band names. We were trying to think of a name for the band, so all of us pitched in with ideas, and I had this list written out. I was in the studio. We had some instrumental music, and I wanted to come up with a vocal. I just glanced down this list, and I saw it not as a list of potential band names but as a kind of surrealist poem, if you will, with all these names juxtaposed and making a story. I thought, “what if I just add a word here and a word there?” I link it, I kind of make it cohesive, and “A Free Society” was simply one of the potential band names. I did the vocal really spontaneously, which is kind of the M-O for this band. Once I got the idea, I said, “I don’t want to think about it. I just want to do it.” The first take is what you hear, and I’m just reciting that list, but then afterward, it was a case of listening to it and coming back to your own subconscious revelation, which is an interesting phenomenon I’ve encountered over the years. Even when you write something consciously, you might think you’re writing about a particular thing, but then later on, once you’re afforded perspective through distance and time, you see it as meaning something else.

[What] I said is exemplified by the artwork for the vinyl, which is different than the artwork for the CD. It’s a painting by a friend of ours, a great artist, Mark [Gleason]. He did a series of paintings where fire was the subject. The idea of that flaming billboard, to me, is representative of completely getting rid of the pressure of commercialized assault that we have coming at us from all angles. It’s kind of anarchic, really. Just the idea of that flaming billboard is kind of beautiful cause it’s obliterating that. It says a lot to me, but it’s open to interpretation.

IE: Are there any themes that run throughout the record?

David J: Well, again, not that we set out to voice these themes and ideas, but because we were in the pandemic plague times, I mean, that was so much at the forefront of our consciousness. That came out, and it runs through the whole record as concepts. That’s pretty much the abiding theme; then, it goes into all different areas. I would just pick up on something I read in a newspaper or a little article online. It was in my immediate consciousness, and I’d just feed off of that, kind of like a collage or montage really, bringing disparate elements together, little snippets here and there. That ties in with the whole process of also the remote, three-way collaboration, putting all these disparate elements together to make a solid piece of work.

IE: Tell us about recording remotely since you couldn’t be together during the pandemic.

David J: What a strange period that we all shared! Victor was in Milwaukee, Darwin was up in Santa Rosa, and I was in L.A. It was a layering process, which was usually initiated by Victor laying down a drum track. That would then go to me, and typically, I would lay down a bass part. I purposely did not familiarize myself with what he’d done because I wanted to be very spontaneous with it, so the first time I would hear those tracks would be when I was in the studio, had the bass plugged in, and was all ready to do a take. Then I would hear it the first time, and sometimes I wouldn’t even hear it before laying down the track. I just let the track roll and then improvise straight away. What you’re hearing on the record is usually either a first or a second take. Also, I found this was really quite odd and a bit uncanny. Before I heard the track in the studio, I started playing a bass line, not knowing what the key was gonna be, the feel of it, or anything. This happened about four times. I’d start playing the bass line, then the track would roll, I’d play, and it syncopated perfectly! It was almost like psychic (laughs). Very strange, but we were in the zone making this record. We all felt this, and we had this flow going.

IE: How would you describe the sounds to those who haven’t heard it yet?

David J: Looking at it, again, from the perspective of objective distance, I hear all sorts of influences in there. I hear kind of motoric Krautrock rhythms. I hear a bit of dub, avant-garde, experimental, The Beatles, a lot of melody, definitely some jazz touches, especially from Victor, so it’s a real mélange, a very eclectic mixing of the cauldron there.

IE: What additional dimensions do you feel come to light on the vinyl release?

David J: I must say the vinyl cut on that record is probably the best I’ve ever had as far as my own work’s concerned. It’s just superb. The vinyl itself is very thick. I’ve never seen vinyl like it, and it sounds beautiful. It’s really full, rich, creamy, warm, and all the things that you want from vinyl. It’s an enveloping sound wave. A lot of the gear that all three of us used during the recording, though we were in different locations, was analog, so that really has been brought out on the vinyl format.

IE: What are the band’s plans in terms of touring?

David J: We don’t have any at the moment. That’s not to say it can’t happen. It would be somewhat challenging in that we never conceived of this as a live entity, and that was part of the beauty. It was purely a studio project, not having any limitations. When you’re in a band that does play out live, you always have that in mind. Sometimes it can limit where the music goes consciously unless you’re The Beatles making “Sgt. Pepper’s [Lonely Hearts Club Band]” (laughs), and it’s just purely for the studio. There is that consideration, but with the Night Crickets, at the time of the recording, it wasn’t there because we didn’t plan to play live.

Having said that, we kind of fancied the idea of playing live. We’ve actually discussed ways we could reinterpret it and put it into a live context. That’s always an interesting challenge when you’ve got something that is a studio creation. How are you gonna streamline it to make it work in that live context? We’ve been doing this long enough to know how to do that, so yeah, it’s feasible that could happen in the future, and it’s exciting the more that I think about it. But at the moment, I’ve got my date book filled right away through the end of next year and the start of the year after…We would just let it naturally occur, and that’s been the approach for the whole project. There’s been nothing forced about it, and we didn’t even see it as putting out a record that was gonna gain so much attention. It was like a little private pet project that we were doing to amuse ourselves when we couldn’t go anywhere (laughs), but we went to all sorts of exotic places in our respective studios, and that’s something about the record that I really like. It creates these exotic worlds of sound that are very evocative, and it’s very compelling just to enter this. It’s another world, really, the world of the Night Crickets.

IE: No matter the band, solo, or passion project, can you recall any standout shows you’ve played in the Windy City?

David J: Chicago is one of the first places that picked up on Bauhaus. We did one of our very first U.S. gigs in Chicago that was promoted by Wax Trax. Everybody was supportive of the band, and then shortly after that, we hooked up with Joe Shanahan at the Metro, and we played one really memorable two-night period in it must have been 1982, I would say. The first night, we did a conventional set, well, as conventional as Bauhaus was in those days. The second night, we had this song out, “Antonin Artaud,” and the whole idea was to do this very kind of ritualistic, primal performance and to start with this song, which is a celebration of the French surrealist poet/playwright, Antonin Artaud, who came up with the concept of the “Theatre of Cruelty.” We wanted to tap into that, so in a nutshell, the idea was that you’d create a performance that goes beyond the limitations of the conventional theatrical experience, and it becomes very primal and engaging in a visceral, disturbing way, and hopefully, ultimately spiritually moving and empowering.

So we played this song, and there’s a middle eight-part, which is just one staccato beat, one stab chord, and a note. Once when we went into that, most of ‘em were singing the words “red fix, red fix.” Instead of the usual part, I think its 16 bars on the record; we just kept it going as long as we could, and the effect on the audience was very interesting. First of all, they started to get into it, and then there’s this kind of delirium that takes over. Then anger, and frustration, and then hilarity, and then delirium again. I think it induced a communal altered state, which was our intention, and then we had a cue, which was just a [clash] on the symbol, to go back into the song like nothing had happened, and we did it successfully. We all stripped down before we went on as well, so we were practically naked and covered ourselves with UV-sensitive paint. We had flour all over the drums and [poured] water on top of this flour. We had strobes going and these black lights, so it was very psychedelic in a way and super intense so that one stands out (laughs).

We also did a radio show the day before, and we invited the audience. We didn’t say what we were gonna do, of course, but we invited them to bring anything percussive, anything that made a loud noise or a quiet noise, but something percussive. A lot of the audience came in with some bits of wood, claves, trash can lids, and sticks, so they joined in on that, “bam bam, bam bam,” and it became very cacophonous. I love that the audience was involved. There’s a breakdown of the conventional performer and the audience. It just becomes everybody is involved, so yeah, that one.

Also, the Metro is a significant venue for me. When I was doing a solo tour, I was opening for PJ Harvey, and I had a little band there. Somehow, all our gear, apart from one instrument, got lost. We turned up, and we had a stand-up bass on the stage. That was it. No guitar. No drums. Apparently, it had gone to Mexico City, so we had to borrow instruments from a guitar store down the road, but there was something about the calamity of that situation that pulled from us a very special performance. Sometimes that can happen when things don’t go as planned. You draw on your resources, and it bears fruit.

IE: From your perspective, what’s led to Bauhaus’ tremendous influence and increasing regard across multiple generations at this point?

David J: Because we never faked it. Because that music is born of authenticity. That’s why. And that’s the same with any band that has that sustained career and sustained interest from an audience. I think they know that you can’t fool an audience. What’s been great on this latest run [prior to being canceled for frontman Peter Murphy to enter a rehabilitation facility] is the young element coming to see us. I’ve met quite a few of them at the gigs, and they’re in their early twenties. Some of them are teenagers, and they’re discovering the band. That’s amazing for us. It’s not just the old guard, bless them, you know? It’s great to see ‘em coming out, but it’s the young crowd as well. They’re so enthusiastic about it, and they get it.

IE: What was it like having lightning strike again with Love And Rockets, who were technically even more popular here in America?

David J: Yeah. Whenever we’ve done a Love And Rockets reunion, it’s always felt like the right time. We’ve never done that where we felt like, “this doesn’t feel right.” It always feels absolutely right. I think our music really stands up. I think it actually sounds better now than it did back when we did it. Sometimes I hear our tracks on the radio. I never play it myself when I’m at home, but it will come at me out of the blue, and sometimes it takes me a couple of seconds to realize that it’s Love And Rockets, but I hear this track [and think], “that’s really good.” It’s gratifying there’s always been a receptive audience for the band. It’s really interesting because basically, of course, it’s the same nucleus as Bauhaus, but when we are together as a trio [with both groups’ guitarist Daniel Ash and drummer Kevin Haskins, minus Murphy], the chemistry is quite different. It’s a different feeling and a different vibe, very much so. It’s one that’s just as strong as Bauhaus but in a different way.

IE: If you were to go back through your catalog of the countless classics you’ve written from then until now, what would you say are the defining moments?

David J: I’ve got to say Night Crickets’ album is one of them. I think that’s up there with anything else, and it’s ongoing cause we’ve been working on some new material that’s really quite interesting. It’s gone dark, deep, more psychedelic, so there’s that, and then going right back, when [Bauhaus] came out with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” I remember that moment, and it was strange in that we were creating it, but it’s sort of like because it’s so special and magical, you are inside it, but you’re outside it at the same time. It’s almost like you’re observing, almost like an out-of-body experience. You’re observing yourselves creating something, and it’s a bit scary, you know? I’ve had that a few times over the years. You know when that’s happening, and it’s really special. The idea is then to capture that lightning in a bottle and record it as quickly as possible. Sometimes it happens there and then in the studio, which is amazing,

It happened like that with [Love And Rockets’] “So Alive.” We went into the studio to make another track. Daniel came up with that riff and the idea for the song first thing in the morning. I say, “first thing in the morning,” [but mean] first thing in the afternoon (laughs). We all recognized, “oh, this has got a special thing, so let’s pursue it,” and by the end of that day, we had that written, recorded, mixed and done. It was like heat vapors coming off of the mixing desk! “What is that?” So yeah, there’s been a few of those (laughs).

IE: We’ve covered a lot of ground, but is there anything else you’d like to add?

David J: I will add something, and we’ll continue this theme regarding the Metro…I’m so pleased the Metro survived the pandemic. Joe Shanahan’s so great at supporting and keeping all the other venues in the country alive. He raised a lot of money for that, and I was pleased to make a little contribution. Yeah, that’s a venue that has a lot of heart, and Chicago is a city that has a lot of heart. I love Chicago, and I always love playing there. Hopefully, one day we can bring the Night Crickets to Chicago, maybe to the Metro!

-Andy Argyrkis

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Featured

About the Author ()

Comments are closed.